The Problem

An Epidemic

The headlines tell of rising death tolls. Economists studying the issue discuss the ever-rising economic costs. Medical professionals research how to best treat pain without over prescribing opioids. Legislatures debate new laws to address the issue.

In 2018, America’s opioid epidemic - which was declared in November 2011 but began a decade before - continues to leave in its wake grieving families, hundreds of thousands of people impacted by addiction and communities struggling to develop strategies to combat the issue. While the numbers don’t tell the entire story, they do provide context for understanding the scope of the epidemic and extent of the work that must be done to address it.

The Statistics:

  • In 2016, 42,249 people died from overdosing on opioids – that’s 116 people each day. (Health and Human Services)
  • In 2016, 11.5 million people misused* prescription opioids. (Health and Human Services)
  • In 2016, 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder. (Health and Human Services)
  • Only 10 percent of Americans with opioid problems get treatment.
  • Opioid overdoses are one reason that US life expectancy had declined for two consecutive years, the first time that has occurred in 50 years. (National Vital Statistics System)
  • Approximately 1,000 people are treated each day in emergency rooms for opioid misuse. (CDC)
  • In November 2017, the Council of Economic Advisers announced that the cost of the opioid drug epidemic in 2015 was $504 billion, up from the $78.5 billion figure that had been estimated previously.
  • Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. (United Nations International Narcotics Control Board)
  • In 2015, there were enough opioids prescribed to medicate every American around the clock for three weeks. (CDC)
  • 31 percent of prescription painkiller–linked overdose deaths are also linked to benzodiazepines, a legal anti-anxiety drug.(CDC)
  • A 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found 75 percent of heroin users in treatment started with painkillers.

* Misuse includes taking more than prescribed; taking medication that does not belong to you, taking the medication for non-medical reasons.